New Video!

Well, I decided to get the drone out, regardless of the weather and the wind. I went into the forest, where there was some shelter, and thought I’d put into images what I wrote in my last blog post. So, enjoy!

The Deer’s Secret

The fallow deer stags have shed their antlers on the heath and in the forest in the last few weeks. As I found one atop a small rise next to ancient Celtic tumuli (burial mounds), dropped on the grassy tuft of a half sunken oak stump, I was gifted with this beautiful reminder that we all need to let go of certain things in our life.

It can be hard to let go. Whether it is past experiences, trauma, emotions or loved ones, eventually we will have to let go at some point. If we don’t, we will hinder ourselves as we travel through life on our own personal journeys. Just as a deer must shed his antlers in order to grow new ones, so must we shed that which no longer serves us in our lives. If the deer doesn’t shed his antlers properly, fully and completely, complications arise when the new ones begin to form. When the time is right, the stag knows when to let go. Sometimes it is with a simple, gentle shake; other times the antlers need to be knocked off purposefully on low trees branches or stumps. Either way, the setting is created for new growth.

The stag’s antlers grow throughout the summer, enabling him to display them proudly come the autumn rut. When growing, the antlers are covered in a beautiful, soft velvet to protect them and allow for room to grow into the shapes destined for that year. When the antlers are full grown the velvet begins to fall off, and the deer helps this process by rubbing it on trees to shed the last of the strips and allow the antlers to fully dry out and harden in the early autumn sunshine. The older the deer, the more points on the antler appear. There are some majestic old King Stags on the heath, whose great strong necks hold up a crown that is almost impossible to imagine. These antlers will help fight off any challengers to the does that have chosen to be with a certain stag, and are both an aggressive and defensive means, one tool of many for the continuation of the herd. When the antlers are no longer needed they are shed, demonstrating the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and the need to let go of that which no longer serves.

Though many in the Pagan community use the festival of Samhain to reflect on what no longer serves them in their lives, for me here living with the local deer community it is the month of May where I find this inspiration. Closely observing the deer, hauling buckets of water out onto the heath for them in the last two years as we have had so little rainfall, leaving offerings of seeds and song, I have established a relationship with them that is so beautiful and inspiring. They know me now, and I have watched as young prickets have matured into stags, and lead does hand over the power to a younger female as their reign over the herd comes to a natural close. I have spent an amazing three years with a white doe, always catching her watching me as I roam the heathland and knowing that she carries messages from the Otherworld in her spiritual capacity. Though she is now gone from us, her spirit lives on in the dappled light of the beech wood and the gentle breeze that blows the heather bells, ringing the faery bells in both this world and the Otherworld.

If we are unable to let go, we cannot move forward with health, vitality and authenticity. We will hinder our progress, sabotage our current situation and be mere shadows of who we could be. The deer remind us that letting go is not a one-time affair, but a process that happens again and again as we work our way through the spirals of life. Every year they must shed their antlers, this cyclic dance of the Antlered God reminding us of the process, and how to move through it.

Some of what holds us back are shadow aspects that no longer serve us in the present moment. While they may have been necessary coping mechanisms in their time, in this present moment they only stop us from being our true, authentic selves. We may have been hurt in the past, but that hurt lies in the past, and carrying it always into the present moment is a burdensome thing to bear. Instead, letting go again and again is the way to move forward, to develop the skills necessary to cope with what life is doing at this very moment in time. We must learn to shed that which no longer serves, and grow into our antlers of sovereignty. And when the time comes, we shed those antlers too.

From “Stories of the Knights of the Round Table” by Henry Gilbert, first edition, 1911.

The sword Excalibur that was given to King Arthur needed to be returned to the Lady of Lake upon Arthur’s death. We return that which no longer serves to the earth, to the waters of the subconscious, to the Otherworld and the Goddess in order for it to be transformed and wrought anew when the time is come. This cyclic myth may have been created through observation of the natural world, and the cycles of the flora and fauna that inspire Pagan mythology. We wield our swords of sovereignty, and then return the power to the land when the time is right, ready to forge anew what it is that we need in the next cycle, like a stag shedding his antlers and then growing anew.

As I look out over my laptop and out into the verdant green of the garden, the beech, ash and birch trees swaying in the light breeze, I am filled with the beauty and mystery of this earthly life and its cycles. We have come out of a long, difficult winter and now the summer is in full swing. The world has turned soft and lush, the bare branches of the trees now heavy and singing in full voice of the songs of summer. The blackbirds join in the song all day long, and the house martins beep beep overhead as they dive and glide to feed their young. That all important Mystery that lies at the heart of Pagan traditions is so abundant all around me, and I am so grateful for this journey. I know what it is that needs letting go, and I do it each and every day, until I find that I am no longer carrying it but have instead stored it away neatly on the shelves of life experience. I walk forward free, able to grow and be in my full, sovereign self.

Thanks to the Deer’s Secret.

10 Tips On How to Write A Meaningful Book Review

I’ve read lots of books. LOTS. And with the internet it is now so easy to leave a review on anything, especially books. There are websites solely dedicated to book reviews. In this blog post, I offer some pointers on how to leave a meaningful, critical book review based on my own experience both as a reviewer, and as one being reviewed.

1.Read the book. I know, this may be a bit of a “duh”, but you’d be surprised how many people leave reviews when they haven’t read the book, or have only read a couple of the first chapters. This means that the review is uninformed, and is really a waste of the reviewer’s time and those who are reading the review. If you just can’t bother any longer with a book, put it down, give it away, whatever – but don’t offer a review. Writing one up based on a couple of chapters isn’t worth the effort. When I’m looking for a book to read and I come across these kinds of reviews, they can be irritating, to say the least as they say very little about the book itself. And as a writer, I’ve had people review my work without having read a single word. One review was a one-star review, which said “bought this for a friend, but I don’t believe in all this witchy stuff”. That review was completely uninformed, and affects the overall rating of the book itself. Don’t be like that person.

2. Offer a critical review, without the ego getting involved. As I read a lot, I also read a lot of book reviews. And some of them are simply ego trips by people who want to try and prove that they know more than the author does about a certain subject. This happens quite often in Pagan non-fiction books. Every book will get at least one review by someone who “knows better” and is showing off that knowledge in their review. When leaving a review, get yourself out of the way first and foremost. The review is about the book, not you. Don’t be tempted to show off.

    3. Offer a critical review. Following on from the point above, don’t be afraid to leave a critical review. If you didn’t like a book, say why and give examples.

    4. Don’t dismiss a book because you didn’t like something the author said. I have been guilty of this in the past, before I wisened up a little. If I came across something that I didn’t agree with, I’d stop reading and give the book away. What a waste of time and money! It is an immature reaction, which means getting your ego out of way. I’ve had to re-buy books I discarded in the past because I had been overrun by my ego. Keep reading, and take what you want out of the work, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Granted, some books can be so badly written, or so factually incorrect that after several of these instances you just give up. If that is the case, and you still want to leave a review, then state this clearly and the fact that you have not read the entire work. Give more than three examples, to show that you have tried your best but just can’t get on with it. Or just leave it be. Remember the second point above when writing that kind of review. Review intentionally, rather than writing a reactionary one.

    5. Review what is in the book, rather than what you would have liked to have seen in the book. This is another bugbear for me when I’m searching for a book and reading reviews to help my decision making. It’s totally unhelpful to read what someone wanted to see, rather than what was actually in the book. Speaking as an author, there are many reasons why some things haven’t made the cut in a book which you may have liked to have included. Word counts are a big thing. What your editors think should be included or not included is another one. What you want to focus on in your own work is highly important, so don’t play to the gallery. Review what is in the book first and foremost, as that is the most helpful to those who are reading the review.

    6. Rate the book appropriately. When handing out stars, be sure you do so correctly, as a single slip of the finger or mouse could mean that you write a glowing review, but only give the book one star. I’ve seen this on more than one occasion.

    7. Personal reviews are great to read, and offering a bit of yourself in the review will endear others to engage with it. Whether you liked a book or not, feel free to write about your own personal experiences with the book, or with the book’s topic without getting too self-involved or showing off. This puts a real person behind the reviewer’s handle, and lets you know that a real human being engaged with this work and is leaving a heartfelt review.

    8. If you must direct others to books other than the one you are reviewing, check your motives first and foremost. I have seen reviews (mostly bad) left by people in the Pagan community who are just ganging up on someone while trying to promote their mate’s work. Don’t be like those people. It’s bad form and is so easy to spot when reading reviews. If you really feel you must direct people to works other than the book you are reviewing, then try writing a blog post or a post on social media about the book or books you would recommend instead of putting that in another’s book review, as that can be so easily misinterpreted for the reasons that I have given above. It makes it suspect.  If you enjoyed the work and can offer similar examples, go for it – those are great reviews to work with, but be clear to state first and foremost why you enjoyed the book you are currently reviewing, before recommending others of a similar vein.

    9. What to include in a book review. It’s always good to start with a short summary of the book. Then move on to the important aspects of the work. Give each of these some attention, if there is more than one. Then give examples, and even short quotes if possible.  Summarise with a concise conclusion, and be sure to title your review appropriately, as well as leave the proper rating.

    10. Be respectful. As Net Galley states: “Be thoughtful and respectful about the work and the author. Aim for meaningful, not mean. Focus on the merits of the book, rather than the author as an individual.” Take your time when writing a review. Don’t rush it, and check your work, ensuring that there aren’t spelling errors, misquotes, etc. as this can make people turn away from your review.

    Happy Reading!

    The Heroine’s Menopausal Journey

    Menopause is tough. There is no question at all: it’s a statement of fact. It’s tough physically, mentally and even spiritually. And it’s something that I’m going through right now.

    Back in full lockdown of 2020, I had to have a hysterectomy. I was left with one ovary, which stopped working about a year later. In my family, menopause happens early anyway, and so I had already been perimenopausal for some years before. Since 2022, I have been going through full menopause, with all its symptoms and challenges. I joined an online community called HysterSisters on the advice of a friend who had already gone through this, and which gave me the information I needed pre and post surgery. Stuff that the doctors and nurses don’t tell you, stuff that only now is actually being talked about openly. In fact, my own GP in my little cluster of villages has now been giving menopause clinics online for the very first time, open to women and men and anyone interested in learning more. But it’s still something that affects everyone differently, much like the huge hormonal shift in adolescence, only now you’ve got a lifetime of experience, pain, trauma and joy to deal with on top of it all.

    The physical symptoms can be hard to deal with. The hot flushes are exhausting, to say the least. Imagine being as hot as you’ve ever been, sweating all over your body while doing nothing but sitting at you keyboard. You feel the heat rising from your heart to your head, and then down all over your body in a fiery wave of energy. If you’re lucky, it’s a short one that only lasts for a minute or two, and you may not have to change your clothes. If it’s a bigger one, you’ll soak your clothing and either have to deal with the discomfort of being in sweaty clothes and the possible smell that will follow, or bring a change of clothing with you wherever you go. Either way, once the heat has passed you are left with the cold, which sometimes can be even worse than the heat, especially in winter. It’s like stepping out from a nice, warm house and into freezing cold, horrible weather. The shock of the temperature change just gets into your muscles and bones, which by the way may already ache with the loss of estrogen. You might be cold for around 20 minutes, sometimes even until your next hot flush. It’s tiring, stressful and just shitty to deal with, in all honesty.

    I’ve gone through periods of having several hot flushes every hour, about one every 20 minutes over the winter holiday period. It settled down for a month, and now it’s back but not as bad, a short two minute one maybe one every hour. There’s also the hot flush that follows about a minute after you wake up, which is usually a big one which you should get out of bed for, otherwise you’ll have to change the sheets. There’s another big one that follows any hot drink you have, or a meal. It’s hard on the body, which makes it hard on the mind too.

    The sleeplessness is another symptom that I am currently trying to work through. I’ve never had sleeping problems, but now when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I just can’t get back to sleep. I have the usual hot flush while I’m in the bathroom, and then when I get back to bed my brain has woken up fully after that fiery energy, and thoughts just keep whirling around in my head with no respite. It can be three to four hours before I can fall back asleep. I then wake up exhausted each morning, with very low energy levels throughout the day. Sometimes I need a nap after lunch (thank all the gods I work from home) just because I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. These naps are pure heaven, because I am so tired that I just fall into oblivion for an hour. It’s bliss: no thoughts, no dreams, just completely leaving reality for a short time and giving my body and brain a break. And then I wake up, have another hot flash, and get on with my day.

    So why not just take HRT, some may ask? Well, I don’t do well with chemical supplements that affect my hormones, and as I had a serious fibroid and ovarian cyst problem, as well as breast cancer running in the family, taking estrogen for me is a definite no go. I’ve found some herbal supplements that have helped with my physical and mental symptoms which have kept me out of a deep, dark hole (Mulier’s Menopause Formula) but I still have to carry on through the majority of the challenge that menopause is throwing at me.

    So, I’m tired all the time, usually achy and having sweats throughout the day. My body is going through the ringer. As mind and body are one, this also affects my mental health. I’m a pretty resilient person mentally, but menopause-related depression has been a new experience for me. Thankfully I know how to deal with it when it comes on (herbal teas and getting out of doors) but the fact remains that just getting out of bed some days is a huge deal. There is still the trauma of the surgery that I feel I haven’t fully dealt with (just having to have the surgery all alone in lockdown, when no one was allowed with you inside the hospital was terrifying enough), alongside the new phase of my life as a woman that I am emotionally and spiritually entering.

    My religion and spirituality thankfully provide me with a framework for entering different stages in my life as a woman, for which I am eternally grateful. My goddess knows what I am going through. She’s been there, done that, gone through it every solar year, and every lunar cycle. She’s an example of resilience and strength that I can turn to, alongside my sisters on this same path who are/have gone through the same things that I have in my menopausal journey.

    As women, we know that we physically, mentally and spiritually have many challenges to face in our lifetimes, for most of us on a monthly basis. And we know that today’s society just expects us to “get on with it”, though thankfully that is starting to change with some trials in the workplace for menopausal women to have a space to retreat to, or days off when it just is too much to bear while working. I can only hope that this shift will extend to all women who, wherever they are in their cycles, can find the time and space to help themselves through it with support and understanding, instead of ignoring the issue and putting on a front that everything is fine because we can’t leave the imaginary competition that patriarchal systems have put into place. When I was in the workplace and having a monthly bleeding cycle, I used up so many “sick days” because I physically couldn’t get into work, either due to pain or flow or usually, both. If I ran out of sick days, then I would have to take unpaid leave, even though in my eyes my condition should have been classed as a short medical leave of absence. And gods forbid I actually get a cold or the flu and not have any sick days left. Even back in high school, I missed days of classes while I lay down in a dark room clutching my belly in the nurse’s office until it was time to go home, and hoping that the hour-long bus ride wouldn’t be too horrific.

    It’s been a tough 30 years for me physically and mentally with my monthly cycles, and now the final journey through menopause is one that I am trying to ride with dignity and grace. But some days are just harder than others, some weeks tougher than others, and experiencing all the physical and emotional changes is both interesting and extremely challenging. I feel like I am coming home to myself, after a long and arduous quest. There are still monsters to slay, mountains to climb and my own heroine’s journey to complete, but I feel that even though my body is exhausted and my psyche gone through the ringer, I have enough strength to get me through. At least most of the time I can feel that.

    The other times I am fanning myself, wondering when this will all end, face red and tired eyes closed as I ride another wave of experience.

    New album!

    So, when the writing just isn’t flowing, I’ve been turning to music. This spring I’ve recorded four songs, of very different styles, dependent on where the mood and muse takes me when I turn to my keyboard.

    This album is entitled DEMONS and is available through my Bandcamp page.

    The album will be added to throughout the year, with new songs and hopefully videos to go along with some of the material!

    I hope you like it.

    Book Review: Soul Shift by Rachel Macy Stafford

    Soul Shift: The Weary Human’s Guide to Getting Unstuck and Reclaiming Your Path to Joy is a wonderful book, filled with wisdom and insight. Through the sharing of personal experience, vulnerability and little victories the author leads us on a journey towards finding our most authentic way of being, and how to show up for our lives. Showing up as our authentic self is not an easy thing in today’s world, however, Soul Shift guides us through the journey in small, easy steps and with inspirational mantras that we can use to return home to ourselves.

    What struck me first and foremost was when I read “Just because you made mistakes doesn’t mean you are forever defined by them. Just because you took an unauthentic path doesn’t mean that you must stay the course.” So often we feel guilt and shame over our past mistakes, and we continue to beat ourselves up about them. Through the author’s insight, there is the dawning realisation that mistakes will be made, we will at times be unfaithful to our true self, we will make mistakes and choices that don’t accord with our deep self, but that these are learning points and not shameful events that we must punish ourselves over with again and again. What doesn’t work, the choices that we make that aren’t true to our nature and our own will: these can often tell us so much about how we should be in the world. What doesn’t work can be our greatest teacher.

    The “Dreamer Girl”, that authentic part of the self that the author shares with us, resonated deeply with me. I have my own Dreamer Girl, a time before I was inundated with the world’s opinions on how I should be, where I should be, what I should be doing. I have been returning to my Dreamer Girl over these last few years, and a feeling of “coming home to myself” has been strong. Our true selves are always with us. My Dreamer Girl has always been there, and it’s through paying attention to ourselves that we can rediscover that part of our being. Take good care of your “Dreamer Girl”, for it is a part of you that can be your guiding light in the world. I know she is mine.

    The author also touches upon a subject regarding how women are often pressured to give and give until there’s nothing left. We must be selfless in order to be worthy. But how she phrased it, by showing us that selfless means “less of self” we can begin to understand how this is not a sustainable way of being. We must learn to take care of ourselves, set clear boundaries that are in accord with our authentic selves, and listen to ourselves. “The practice of True Self-Worth is one of the most transformative practices I’ve cultivated on the journey. It has empowered me to make choices by heart, according to my core values and beliefs, rather than by societal standards or the expectations of others.” She talks about not throwing good energy at bad situations, and how to keep toxic elements out of our lives by protecting ourselves with our own inner guardians.

    When we are portraying a false or fake image of ourselves, we are unable to make true, authentic connection. When we are being authentic and true, that’s when the real connection happens and you are able to see it spreading out into the wider world. Your own genuine connections will be stronger for it, for people will be connecting to the true you, not the person you are pretending to be on any given day. Those genuine connections are where love sits deeply and comfortably, both in yourself and with others. “Know these acts of acceptance will lead to more significant surrenders that will bring unexpected joy and peace to your life.” The ability to love and be loved is when we are being our most authentic selves.

    Kindness creates peace, as the author so beautifully states. She also mentions how growth and healing are fluid processes, rather than being competitive in nature. “I promised right then and there to reserve ‘best ever’ status to recipes, not humans”. I also took away her words that “Someone else’s opinion is not my truth”. Words to live by.  I was also blown by the realisation that other people’s disappointments in me need not shatter my own peace and my own life. I feel that this may be a very powerful way of moving forward in my own life. She states “There’s no peace worth keeping if it requires me to betray myself and what I hold most dear.”  We have to be okay with other people’s disappointments in us. In fact, should this happen to me again, I will be using the quote “I am okay with your disappointment in me,” rather than betray a part of myself through sublimation.

    Every day our stories are being written. Every day we have an opportunity to show up in our life. This book is not a book about how to be perfect, but rather how to be a perfectly imperfect human being filled with grace and peace, leaning from the stepping stones of our past in order to walk awake and aware into our future. This moment, right now, is what matters most; not yesterday, not tomorrow, but this present moment. It’s the only moment we can truly show up for, in all honesty.

    We can all learn how to “walk differently in the world”. Taking steps that are right for us. Connecting with our deep sense of self, who we are, what we will and will not tolerate, what brings us peace and joy. We can make soul-deep connections that nurture and sustain us, rather than upset or drain us. By listening to our self, by being true to who we are, by coming into our own authenticity we can move forward as sovereign beings that make a real difference to the world, simply by showing up and being free.

    Is Nature Indifferent to Us?

    I love this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, by Bill Watterson. It speaks to me on so many different levels, not least of all as a Mother of Cats. But it’s mostly the first part that I’ll be pondering over in this blog post today.

    Is nature indifferent to us? Well, perhaps on the whole, yes. Nature could be indifferent to everything. The entirety of nature is such a vast concept, to me it’s like pondering deity, for in my own religious and spiritual view, nature is deity.

    However, in my own personal practice, I feel that the gods are not indifferent to us, so where does that leave me with regards to the above? I’m just not sure. Could it be a paradox, that the deities care and don’t care at the same time? That would make them truly similar to cats…

    It’s hard to come to terms with the darker aspects of nature, the pain and suffering that exists. Just yesterday there as a fox in the garden, and it looked like s/he had been hit by a car. One of their back legs wasn’t working, and there was definitely trauma to the back leg and hip. The fox had worried all the fur off of the back leg, hip and tail. It was taking respite from the wind in our garden, sheltered as it is by hedges. It also had a nice long drink from our pond.

    After a while I went out to see just how badly it was injured. It couldn’t hear me above the wind, and I didn’t want to startle it so I called softly out to it. It turned its head and then quickly stood up. I gave it a quiet wave and it ran on its three legs back through the hole in the hedge and was gone.

    I put some food out for it later that day, and will be doing so each night. I fear that the chances that this fox will survive are pretty slim, but at least it won’t die on an empty stomach.

    I meditated that night on the suffering that goes on all around us, every second of every day. That poor fox was in lot of pain, but there was nothing I could do about it. Even had I called the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, chances are that by the time they got here the fox would be long gone anyway. I wondered at how such a thing could happen, could be “allowed” to happen to a beautiful creature as this fox. Tears flowed as I struggled with the suffering of so many lives right now.

    People are in the hospital, wars are going on, wild animals are being hit by cars, the oceans and rivers are full of raw sewage and plastic – I could go on and on. It sure seems like the majority of humans today are indifferent to nature, so why shouldn’t nature be indifferent to us?

    But nature hasn’t been indifferent to me. I have had wonderful experiences of true connection. I understand how we are all part of this one, great whole. I just wish that others could understand this, in order to save ourselves from our own self-destruction, and the widespread destruction of nature all around us.

    But nature is also indifferent. The wind blows whether we like it or not. We have no say in earthquakes, sunshine or rain. Perhaps this is not indifference, but our own inability to see the bigger picture, the whole. 

    I am not offended by the seeming indifference nature has for us. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to show nature how much I really care. I aim to live in this world as best I can, with as much sympathy, empathy and compassion as I am able to give. I seek to be a contributing, functioning member of my own local ecosystem, and thereby a part of the wider world too.

    Maybe nature really is like a cat. Sometimes it appears indifferent, and other times we can feel the genuine affection that it has for us, if only we are sensitive enough to feel it and open enough to accept it.